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Watch the key moments from Virgin Orbit’s successful rocket launch

Virgin Orbit launched a rocket from a converted passenger jet on Wednesday, June 30, sending a payload of small satellites into low Earth orbit.

The successful mission marked the official start of Virgin Orbit’s commercial service for small-satellite launches.

The Virgin Orbit team successfully demonstrated the system in a launch in January, with Wednesday’s Tubular Bells: Part One mission following largely the same procedure.

The jumbo jet, called Cosmic Girl, carried the LauncherOne rocket under its left wing. Once it reached its launch altitude, the rocket blasted into space to deploy payloads for three customers from three countries: The U.S. Department of Defense Space Test Program, Polish satellite firm SatRevolution, and the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

Virgin Orbit livestreamed the key stages of the successful mission. You can watch them in the clips below.

It started with the Boeing 747 departing the Mojave Air and Space Port in California and heading out over the Pacific.

Tubular Bells: Part One Livestream | Virgin Orbit

Once the jet reached an altitude of just 0ver 30,000 feet, the LauncherOne rocket detached from the aircraft’s wing, ignited, and then blasted into space.

Here's a glimpse of rocket drop today from the cameras onboard our flying launchpad, Cosmic Girl. ✈️#TubularBells

— Virgin Orbit (@VirginOrbit) June 30, 2021

Stage separation took place at 335,000 feet.

Tubular Bells: Part One Livestream | Virgin Orbit

This was followed by the fairing coming away from the rocket at an altitude of 387,000 feet.

Tubular Bells: Part One Livestream | Virgin Orbit

Finally, Virgin Orbit tweeted what appeared to be the satellite deployment.

There is no greater sight in the world. Or off it.

Congratulations to our three customers on a perfect start to their missions. #TubularBells

— Virgin Orbit (@VirginOrbit) June 30, 2021

“It was such a special moment to stand on the flight line with the wonderful team and celebrate as Virgin Orbit flew to space for the second time, launching all seven customer satellites into orbit,” Virgin Orbit founder Richard Branson wrote in a message posted soon after the mission ended.

Branson added: “Many people told us it was impossible: Launching a rocket from underneath the wing of an adapted Virgin Atlantic 747 airplane at 30,000 feet and soaring to space at 17,500 mph to drop off satellites into orbit.”

Virgin Orbit will compete with the likes of SpaceX and Rocket Lab, who use more conventional ground-based rocket launches to get their customers’ satellites into space.

Indeed, Branson noted in his message that Virgin Orbit’s special launch platform marks it out from others in the industry.

“This unique way of launching is what makes Virgin Orbit different [from] its competitors — we are the only launch company that can go anytime, from anywhere, to any orbit,” he said. “Launching from the air means we can provide a light, fast, flexible, and affordable satellite launch system. Using a 747 airplane and a runway rather than a launch pad means we can take a route to space from any airport in the world.”

In fact, the company has partnerships in place for rocket flights from the Pacific island of Guam, as well as Cornwall in the U.K., while it’s also in talks with officials in Japan, Brazil, and Abu Dhabi with a view to launching from those locations, too.

Virgin Orbit’s next mission is expected to take place sometime this year before launches ramp up in 2022.

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Trevor Mogg
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